President Biden on Wednesday night stonewalled a question about whether he would impose mask mandates or a new round of COVID-19 restrictions and said he still believes Congress will approve his infrastructure plans despite a setback in the Senate earlier in the day.
Asked at a CNN town-hall event if he would rethink some of the pandemic restrictions that have been lifted, the president pivoted by urging people to get vaccinated. The resurgence of the delta variant is raising concerns about spiking hospitalization rates and threatening the economic recovery.
“What I say to people who are worried about a new pandemic: get vaccinated,” Mr. Biden said during the event in Cincinnati, Ohio. “If you are vaccinated even if you do catch the virus … you are not likely to get sick. You’ll probably be symptomless. You are not going to be in a position where your life is in danger.”
Several counties and municipalities across the country have imposed mask mandates as the deadly COVID-19 delta variant continues to surge.
Officials in Los Angeles County and Berkeley, California, both reimposed mask mandates. Mask mandates are also being discussed in coronavirus hot spots such as Arkansas and Missouri, where cases continue to rise.
Mr. Biden repeatedly emphasized the need to wear a mask to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“We have a pandemic for those who haven’t gotten the vaccination. It’s that basic, that simple,” he said. “If you’re vaccinated, you’re not going to be hospitalized. You’re not going to be in an ICU unit. And you are not going to die.”
Mr. Biden also addressed those hesitant to get the vaccine, saying they should ask “legitimate questions” so they can get answers.
“The question should be asked, answered and people should get vaccinated,” he said.
Mr. Biden also said that kids under 12 who are not yet vaccinated should wear masks when they return to school this fall. He said he believes vaccinations will be available for children under 12 “soon,” but couldn’t give a timetable.
Much of the prime-time event focused on Mr. Biden‘s legislative agenda, including his $4 trillion infrastructure proposals and his push for partisan voting-rights bills. Senate Democrats lost a vote earlier in the day to proceed with debate on the smaller of Mr. Biden‘s two infrastructure proposals.
Mr. Biden dismissed Senate Republicans’ vote against his bipartisan infrastructure package as “irrelevant,” saying he’s confident it will ultimately advance. The president is scheduled to meet with union leaders and business chiefs on the proposal Thursday at the White House.
“I think we’ll get it done,” Mr. Biden said.
Asked if it was possible to bring Congress together to repair the nation’s infrastructure, Mr. Biden responded, “Absolutely, positively, yes.”
“Take a look at Ohio and Kentucky. There are thousands of bridges that need repair,” he said. “And we should be looking at it this way: it increases commerce, but it’s also good-paying union jobs.”
Mr. Biden also tried to ease concerns about inflation, after the government reported that consumer prices in June spiked in the biggest increase in 13 years. Inflation hit an annual rate of 5.4%.
“There will be near-term inflation because everything is now trying to be picked back up,” Mr. Biden said, adding that Wall Street analysts believe it’s “highly unlikely that it’s going to be long-term inflation that’s going to get out of hand.”
Republicans said Mr. Biden is dead wrong.
“Every time Americans go to the grocery store or fill up their tank with gas, they see the cost of Biden‘s reckless tax and spend policies,” tweeted Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican. “The Biden inflation is a hidden tax on working-class Americans.”
The president defended his refusal to push Senate Democrats to eliminate or reform the filibuster, saying tweaks would create chaos in Congress, while also slamming the procedural tool as a “relic of Jim Crow.”
“There is no reason to protect it other than you are going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done,” Mr. Biden said.
Asked about Vice President Kamala Harris’ warning Central Americans “do not come” to the U.S., Mr. Biden agreed with her rhetoric.
“Yes, they should not come,” the president said. “We are setting up in those [Northern Triangle] countries, if you seek asylum in the United States, you can seek it from the country.”